Level Up

Principal Coding is done. That’s right. I said it, the principal coding is all done. The different classes and objects and the level system works. The game, fundamentally…works now. Of course The Thief’s Tale worked for a damn long time while I was still working on it, but now I can move along to the next large part of the project, which is building all the gods damned levels.
Which leaves me a little stuck you see. My initial reaction was just to reach for my trusty graph paper and get working, but that doesn’t work anymore. The levels are simply too big. If I draw them in a way to fit them all on a single page, then they wouldn’t be useful since they would lose all but the largest details. I also don’t want to dive in and start with nothing because I loathe a false start and redoing work that I’ve already built. I get the impression that’s probably going to be the best idea though – just get into the editor (PaperEd?) and start messing around. Try to do something and just see how it goes.
I’m reminded of something I read once, that said that the secret to making great games is to fail often, and fail quickly. Get it all out of your system and understand why it sucks so hard. Then you can get along to the good stuff and stop dicking around.
Having said that I have worked out how I would like the Critical Path to work. First, I’ll explain. The Critical Path is a concept that is used almost exclusively in games. It defines the actions that a player must take to reach the end of said game. Movies, do not have this for example, because they will get to the end all by themselves. Books require that you read them, but that’s not an action that you are taking it’s a process of consumption which is a different beast altogether since it’s passive. (That same passive/active thing is one of the reasons that a game, fundamentally, cannot be Art {I look forward to your letters}).
Anyhow, in Paper Zeppelin the Critical Path is the way that the levels are put together. The Structure in other words. It works like this, like the Design Document says : There are 17 levels. There is a single first level, and thereafter a different level is presented based on how well the player did in the level they just completed. This breaks down into 3 paths to get to the last level which is the same for every path.
As an example, a player starts the first level, and bombs the base and get 80% kill percentage, so they go to the “Hard” next level. Here they fail to bomb the base and only get 50% kills, so they move along to the “Easy” next level (level 3 now). Here they bomb the base and get only 30% kills since the cat puked on the floor and needed immediate attention. That nets the player the “Normal” 4th stage.
This means that, although the player will get to the “end” of Paper Zeppelin in 7 levels, they will miss almost all of it requiring multiple play throughs. Each time the Critical Path of the game is decided by the player and their abilities.
Of course, as a Designer, I demand Iron Fist control over some aspects of the game, and this is one of those things. Although I don’t have a say as to what level a player will go to next, I have complete control over what order the possible Critical Paths may be in.
To wit, here are some of the ideas I had for different levels, based around things that would be easy to create art for, while simultaneously offering differing gameplay experiences.

Rolling Hills
Steep Hills
Mountaintops / Sky
Mountains / Caves
Floating Islands

From here I figured that I would create nighttime versions of the levels that could support it. This leaves me with, in a cool bit of serendipity, 17 levels available. Working out the order, assuming that we start with Rolling Hills (the easiest concept since it is mostly flat) I want no repeats along a path, but also don’t want the repeat a concept right after another one. So is level 2 medium is Desert, then level 3 hard, level 3 medium and level 3 easy cannot be Deserts too.
This may take some doing. In the meantime, at least I know what the first level will be.

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